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Do Not Be Afraid

Matthew 1:18-25

Pastor Mark Schlamann

St. Joseph
First Lutheran  
Tooele, UT

Sun, Mar 19, 2017 


What can we say about Joseph?  What do we make of him?  We could say a lot about him, but that would be speculation because Holy Scripture doesn’t say much about him; therefore, we don’t say much.  Where Scripture speaks, we speak; where it is silent, we are silent.  But Scripture does speak a little about him…precious little.  The Holy Spirit deemed it important for us to know that Joseph was a carpenter and that he was engaged to a young woman—a virgin—named Mary.  In those days engagements were more binding than they are today.  It wasn’t simply a matter of returning the diamond ring; this would involve filing paperwork, similar to filing for divorce.  This is what Joseph wanted to do when he learned his intended bride Mary was pregnant…with a child not his.  Of course it wasn’t his; they had not had sexual intercourse—so the child cannot possibly be his, and he was right.  Therefore he wanted to terminate the engagement, but Joseph, “being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly” (v. 19).  Joseph loved Mary, and the thought of her being publicly shamed—and possibly executed—for adultery was not what he wanted to have happen to her.  The punishment for adultery was death.  Remember the woman in John 8 who was about to be stoned to death for such an offense—a mortal sin if there ever was one.

For this reason God sent one of His angels with a message to Joseph.  The word angel means “messenger,” and this particular unnamed angel had a message to Joseph from God: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (vv. 20b-21).  The angel assured Joseph there was nothing to fear—nothing to be anxious about.  The Child in Mary’s womb was not from another man but from God the Holy Spirit Himself.  Do not be afraid, Joseph, for the woman you are about to marry is still a virgin.  Do not be afraid, Joseph, for this woman is carrying the Son of God in her sacred womb.  Do not be afraid, Joseph, for the woman you love will forever be known as the Theotokos, the mother of God.  Do not be afraid, Joseph, for this holy pregnancy and sacred birth shall take place “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (vv. 22-23).

So what did Joseph do?  Did he run away from the situation?  Did he point his finger back at God?  Absolutely not!  “Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name Jesus” (vv. 24-25).  Joseph, a righteous, devout, and just man, did exactly what the Lord commanded him to do, taking Mary to be his bride and abstaining from sexual relations with her that the Scriptures would be fulfilled in the birth of the Savior of all mankind.

There is certainly much to commend Joseph for in obeying the command of the Lord in becoming Mary’s husband and the guardian (foster father or stepfather) of our Lord and in protecting both mother and child from both Herod the Great and his son Herod Archelaus in the flights to and from Egypt, as we heard in today’s Holy Gospel reading.  That said, this holy man was also both saint and sinner, even as you and I are.  He lost sight of who this boy Jesus truly is.  We hear this in Luke 2, as he and Mary return to Jerusalem to look for Jesus, only to find Him in the temple, asking questions of the rabbis and answering their questions.  Mary and Joseph were human; they fretted over this missing Boy.  Jesus’ “mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously” (Lk. 2:48).  Jesus’ answer betrays their ignorance of who He really is.  He said, “Why did you seek Me?  Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Lk. 2:49).  The Holy Spirit moved Luke to add: “But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them” (Lk. 2:50).  There were Joseph and Mary, convicted by the Holy Trinity for their forgetting who this Jesus truly is and would grow up to be.

Before we pile on them, let us not forget that we are no better than they are.  Like them, we are poor, miserable sinners.  We sin against God.  We forget Him.  When things are going well for us, we like to pat ourselves on the back.  When things look bleak, we feel ashamed to come before God—looking to get ourselves out of our pitiful situations.  We don’t want to “bother” God, the same God who made you, me, Mary, and Joseph.  We lose sight of Him.  Our relationship with Him is broken.  Our relationship with the Bride of Christ, the Church, is also broken.  As one Lutheran theologian so aptly puts it: The culmination of the church service, God's ultimate goal, is Communion and Eucharistic thanksgiving. Satan deceives us into the pride of dissatisfaction and selfishness, resulting in fragmentation, separation, and isolation. That is, leaving us with no family, no church, and ultimately no church family, in the house of our Heavenly Father. [Peter Scaer]

So where do we go?  Where do we turn to?  We return to this very place, the house of our heavenly Father.  For it is here in Divine Service that He unites us with each other and reconciles us to Himself.  It is by His Holy Spirit that we pray, speak, sing, and confess with one voice.  It is here that your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives you the very gifts He won for you when He died in your place on the cross.  The spear that pierced Jesus’ side (and Mary’s soul) produced an outpouring of water and blood, the water that washes you in Holy Baptism and the blood that quenches your thirst, and the pierced flesh that feeds you, in the Eucharist.  Even as the boy Jesus was in His Father’s house to be about His business, so also the Holy Spirit brings you here into your heavenly Father’s house to be about His business—namely, to receive the forgiveness He gives you in His Word and Sacraments, the forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross, where He bled and died for you and the eternal life He gives you by His glorious and victorious resurrection from the dead.  So what does this mean for you and me, the blessed recipients of God’s grace?

Fellow redeemed, do not be afraid to take Jesus as your Savior and Lord, for He has died to take away your sins and risen to give you eternal life in heaven.  Fellow Christians, do not be afraid to take your confession of Christ into the world, that others would know of the hope that you have and that they by the Holy Spirit would also believe in and confess Him, that they too would be saved.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do not be afraid to take your sins to your heavenly Father, for He is willing—and eagerly desires—to forgive you for His Son’s sake.  Dearly beloved, do not be afraid to take the Word of the Lord to heart, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, that you would be fed on every word that comes from it.  O baptized Christian, do not be afraid to take into remembrance your Baptism, that you would remember who you are and whose you are: sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus and children of the heavenly Father.  You who hunger and thirst for righteousness, do not be afraid to take and eat Christ’s body; do not be afraid to take and drink His blood, for these Christ gave and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Do not be afraid, for Jesus says to you, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20b).  Amen. SOLI DEO GLORIA

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